Loving Our Kids Through Transition

“Mom, I really miss my friends.” We’d moved to the Middle East a few months before, and my oldest – then 3. 8 years old – was really struggling with leaving our old life behind.

Her downcast look made my heart sink.

“Oh sweetheart, I know. I miss my friends so much too…” I wanted her to know she wasn’t alone. But I also wanted to guide her heart to the One who comforts us. So I asked,

“What do we do when we miss our friends?”

She looked at me and said, “We cry.”

“Yes… we can definitely cry… then what else? What else can we do?”

“We can eat ice cream!”

I burst out laughing as I hugged her tight. Why yes! ice cream helps. How did you know, sweet girl?

Eventually we finally got to “we can also pray…” And we did.

Walking with our kids through transition and homesickness has been very difficult for this mama’s heart. At the beginning especially, I used to carry the weight of the fact that they had not chosen this life and yet were having to live with the consequences. Even though my oldest was so young when we first moved, she really struggled with leaving our community in the States, especially that first year. It came up over and over again. All she wanted was to go back to the States. She couldn’t understand why we’d left.

We have had two more big moves since then. Helping our kids through transition has been one of our most important jobs living overseas.

Here are a few things we have done over the past four years:

We celebrate the things we love about our new country or new city. What foods do we like? What are some of our favorite places? What do we love about the apartment/neighborhood we live in? Giving thanks for all those things has been very helpful to start turning all our hearts toward the place God is planting us in.

We created a simple book with pictures of our new life in the Middle East that we could show to our friends in the US when we went back for the summer. It was very simple: I printed a bunch of pictures, my oldest and I worked together taping them on construction paper. Then I asked a friend to laminate it for us. It was a way to help our oldest daughter internalize where our life was. It also made it easy for her to share her new home with others.

We’ve made timelines over and over again to help our kids understand the process of our moves. We’ve had home assignments in between our last two moves, with a lot of traveling involved. We’ve tried to help the kids wrap their minds around where all we are going to be and what all has to happen before we finally land in our new home.

We’ve listened to them, cried with them and prayed with them as they process all the things. This last move was especially hard for our middle daughter. She kept saying all summer she didn’t want to move to this country but wanted to go back to the one we lived before. We were (mostly) patient to let the Lord work in her. We held her and also gently made sure she knew we were not going back.

We’ve done “goodbye” tours of our home to help them have closure. They need to know they can grieve with us over losing their homes, their favorite toys (that are too big to take), and especially their friends.

We ask our kids the “high” and “low” of each day as a way to create space for them to talk about the good and the hard of their new life.

Keeping traditions from our home culture has been really important and stabilizing for our girls. With so much transition, some traditions have been hard to keep. But I have tried to keep them, even if just in a small way. For example, Halloween this past year happened shortly after we landed here. I had no bandwidth to host a fall party like the year before. But my husband and I got candy, shut ourselves in a bedroom each and had the girls dress up and knock on our bedroom doors to trick or treat. Then while the girls “visited” one of the bedrooms, one of us ran to another room so that they could “visit” 4 different rooms in the house and get candy. The girls LOVED it as simple as that was.

I have tried to keep some constancy in our home décor. We’ve had to sell most of our stuff when we’ve moved, but I kept some of our Christmas ornaments, sentimental wall art and pictures. The delight on their face discovering those things, after months being packed up, has been priceless.

We’ve prioritized exploring and making memories in our new country – even when it is a lot of work. It helps our kids to connect this place with the feeling of joy, togetherness and even at home. Recently we went away for a weekend to the Red Sea. We had a flat tire, cockroaches in our Airbnb, and difficulty with our rental car company. I had to wash all the dishes and silverware because they were dirty and our beds… well, they weren’t clean either. It felt at times that the waves of culture shock followed us there and we didn’t have much reprieve. But it was well worth it to hear our girls’ joy in being in warmer weather, in being by the ocean, and especially in being together.

While it’s true our kids haven’t chosen this life, God chose it for them, not us. He is the best home our families have as we go through the chaos of transition. Let’s keep him as our refuge. None that did, was ever ashamed.

As a parent, how have you helped guide your children through transition?

Photo by Marco Ceschi on Unsplash

11 Comments

  1. Hollie February 6, 2019

    We are preparing for yet another huge transition – the 5th major transition within the last 18 months. And our kids, especially our oldest (7yrs), are grieving as they prepare to say goodbye. I was just having a conversation with a friend last night where I admitted that sometimes I do long to be able to take this suffering and loss out of their lives even if that means just going back to a ‘regular’ life, lived in our home country. But that isn’t the life that we are called to – at least not right now. It is so so hard to see their struggle, and to walk with them through that well while I am also hurting. So good, though, to remember that God is with us through these hard things, sending reminders that we are cherished and that the struggle is not in vain, it’s not meaningless or pointless. Yesterday part of my Bible reading was in Hebrews 11. I love verses 13-16, and the reminder that our ‘forever home’ is with Him.

    Good stuff!! Thank you for sharing! It was perfect timing and definitely something I needed to read this morning.

    1. Lilly February 7, 2019

      Holly, the 5th transition in 18 months?! I will definitely keep your family in my prayers!! I am so sorry…. and yet trust the Lord who is writing your story. May all this change drive you and your kids deep into the heart of the unchanging One.

  2. MG February 6, 2019

    Oh man, your list is so good!! Not sure why, but it never dawned on me that my 4 year old would have culture shock…. but sure enough, when he started crying because the corner store “didn’t have the ice creams with the cookies (ice cream sandwiches)” I knew I had missed the opportunity to coach him through our transition. A year later, he remembered one random toy that got sold in the move and was furious that we had left it behind. It doesn’t matter that dude never played with that toy… he was mad!
    We’re six months away from a transition back stateside and I’m determined not to make the same mistake twice. I know it won’t eliminate the reverse culture shock, but hopefully we can help him out a little better on the front end. Thanks for your list; it’s a great starting point!

    1. Lilly February 7, 2019

      Thinking of you and your son. So much grace in transition.

  3. Heather February 6, 2019

    Thank you so much for this. We are preparing to move for the first time cross-culturally in a month. We have a 3 5 and 7 year old. I have been praying for ways to guide them through the transition. Thank you so much!

    1. Lilly February 7, 2019

      Thank you, Lord, for listening! I am so encouraged by your comment. Praying now for you and your kids as you start walking the road of transition, even now.

  4. Linda Berg February 7, 2019

    I walked into her room and found her crying. Our 16 year old daughter was sitting on her bedroom floor. Tears were falling on her bible spread before her. I sat down beside her.

    “Oh, honey. What’s going on?”

    “I hate it here. I hate it!”

    I pulled her close. Together we both cried.

    I don’t know how long we stayed in that place.

    It was easy to stay wrapped up in each other’s arms with shared grief. It was hard to realize the losses we experienced by moving to a foreign field and the adjustments we would need to make to be faithful to our commitment were going to take time and in that time would be dark, lonely days.

    When her chest no longer heaved with the pain of it all, I pushed away from her just enough to look her squarely in the eyes.

    Tell me what is giving you so much trouble.

    She gushed out the words like an overflowing rain gutter on a house after a nights deluge of rain.

    The new language she struggled speaking, and even more understanding. The teenagers her age, who were interested in her, mostly out of curiosity, but not because of desiring a friendship with her. The absence of good friends back home. Her church youth group – on and on it went. With each thing she shared, a bit of calm appeared in her face, but more than that, a soft voice returned to our tender-hearted daughter.

    When the pain was verbally expelled and she grew quiet and still, I asked, “I see your bible is out. What have you been reading?”

    I don’t remember the passage she told me, but these words I do remember.

    “When I hurt so bad because nothing in my life is normal or comfortable anymore, I know God is.”

    Both of us again were overcome with tears at the profound peace of those words and her affirmation of the truth of God in our lives.

    That was 21 years ago, about six months into our service in a foreign land. That daughter is 37 years old, married with five dear and lovely children. The early years of her marriage were very troubled and dark. It looked impossible in all ways to ever be satisfying for her or her husband or even honorable to God.

    My husband and I watched our daughter employ the same principle of relying only on God when this season of her life was so dark, just as she had leaned on him many years prior in her place of abnormal and uncomfortable living.

    Her marriage, her family now, how are they you might ask?

    Not perfect are any marriages. No. But the light of God is seen in her life and the lives of her husband and children because in that dark, difficult place years ago, she found that when all she had was God, He was enough.

    1. Lilly February 7, 2019

      Wow. What a precious story and sweet encouragement to my soul. Thank you SO much for sharing. I am sure it will breathe fresh hope to many mamas like me who are in the front end of this journey. To be able to see our kids cling to God that way – oh Lord make it so! Again, this is so beautiful. Thank you!

  5. Amy Young February 7, 2019

    Lilly, I love reading your writing and your heart for the Lord, your family, your country of service, and yourself :). Thank you for writing!!

  6. Marietta Yoder February 7, 2019

    Our kids were born overseas or went at a few months old so our most difficult transition was moving back to the States. For a long time they felt like they couldn’t fit in and had trouble eating American food. These are all great ideas and they work both ways. Blessings to all you brave, loving parents out there!

  7. Jamie February 7, 2019

    This was super helpful to start thinking about as we are 5 months out from a big transition to a new country and totally new ministry. We have a 4.5 year old and a 1 year old and this gave me some very good ideas to help them through this transition. We have already been abroad for 3.5 years and this is home. I like the picture book you made. I think that will help give closure and understanding to our 4 year old. And such a good point that this is what God is choosing for them and it is good and for His glory and their growth as well as ours (as parents). Blessings!

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